Islam and Spiritual Awakening

by Shaykh Ahmad Hendricks 

Tasawwuf is a crucial aspect of our Din and I am privileged to have this opportunity to share my insights and understandings of it, small as it may be, with you the reader. It is common in our time to hear people complaining about a lack of meaning in their lives. Everywhere people are looking for "something" to overcome this inner vacuum. A powerfull need is felt to restore the imbalances which usually accompanies and is in fact evident in our lives as we relentessly work to satisfy our material needs. Now what has all of this to do with Tasawwuf you might well ask. The truth is Tasawwuf or the lack of it, has everything to do with this crisis. Tasawwuf is the life blood of this Din. It runs through this Din like the blood that flows through our bodies. Loss of blood, as it happens when someone is seriously injured, will lead to the death of the body.

The Din comprises of three distinct aspects as the answer of the Nabi, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, to the questions put to him by the Archangel Jibril indicates. ‘Umar, may Allah bless him, relates that on the certain day a stranger appeared in Medina, dressed in white clothes without any sign of travelling evident on him, came to the Nabi, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, and sat in front off him. The man placed his knees against the knees of the Nabi and asked, "What is Islam?" The Prophet, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, replied, "To bear witness that there is no god except Allah and that Muhammad is his messenger, to perform Salah, to give Zakah, to fast the month of Ramadan and perform Hajj". The stranger replied, "You have spoken the truth". He then asked again, "What is Iman?", and the Nabi answered, "To believe in Allah, and in His angels, and His books, and His Messengers, and in the Day of Judgement, and to believe that both good and evil is by the Decree of Allah." The stranger replied, "You have spoken the truth." The stranger then asked again, And what is Ihsan, the Nabi, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, replied, "To worship Allah as if you see Him, and if you do not see Him then know that He sees you." The man then again said, "You have spoken the truth." The stranger, after another question or two, finally departed from this apparently bizarre encounter, bizarre to the Companions because who is he to say to the Nabi, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, "You have spoken the truth" after each reply. ‘Umar, amy Allah bless him, built up the courage to enquire about all of this and the Nabi, may Allahs peace and blessing be upon him, said: "That was Jibril who came to teach you your Din." [Narrated by Imam Bukhari]

From this hadith it is apparent that the Din has three basic components, Islam, Iman and Ihsan. We can compare these three elements to the three parts of an egg. Islam which is the practical outer practises, we can for example see people performing Salah or performing Hajj, of the Din corresponds to the hard outer protective shell of the egg. Iman which are the basic beliefs and world-view of the Din, corresponds to the white unseen part of the egg. And finally Ihsan corresponds to the yolk of the egg, its heart and from which eventually a life will evolve. Ihsan according to the words of the Nabi, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, has two aspects; 1) Mushahadah, or Spiritual Vision , or the inward vision of Allah. We are, indeed, instructed to worship Allah as if we see him. The crucial question here is how does one do that. What is mushahadah, also called shuhud by some scholars, really. And how does one attain to that high darajah. How does one develop the ability "to worship Allah as if you see Him".

2) Muraqabah, or awareness that Allah sees us, every moment of our lives and in every place we might be. It is wajib in terms of the hadith we quoted above, it is incumbent on every Muslim to develope this awareness or rather this knowledge, "and if you do see Him know that he sees you."

Let me summarise all of this . The first aspect, the outer practises of Islam, is covered and dealt with in the books of Fiqh, and the second aspect, the belief system of our Din, is studied in the books of Tawhid or ‘ilm al-kalam. And finally Ihsan, and the path of moral transformation and of character building necessary for Ihsan to become a reality and a part of us as Muslims, is precisely the subject of Tasawwuf. Shaykh M.Amin al-Kurdi gives the following definition of Tasawwuf in his great book "The Enlightenment of the hearts"; "It the knowledge of the praiseworthy and blameworthy traits of the self, of the methods of purifying it of the blameworthy and embellishing it with the praiseworthy ones, and knowledge of the methods of travelling too Allah and of fleeing to Him."

So, finally, Tasawwuf deals with the ethics, morals and character traits that are as obligatory on us to have, as salah is obligatory on us. The anti-Tasawwuf mutterings one often hears in certain quarters of the community is utterly bizarre. The Din will be like an empty egg-shell or like a dead corpse drained of its blood without Tasawwuf. In our time it is precisely that emptiness and the loneliness of death that is seeping through society and as we are consumed by our material pursuits we ever more becoming aware of creeping spiritual numbness and eventual death.

(from the Boorhanul Mgazine: January 2000)

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